People at BollyWHAT and elsewhere had already warned me about this film, better known in Hindi film circles as K3G. Some of the more moderate opinions I read included such critical gems as, "[i]ts ultimate failure leaves one frustrated about so much unfulfilled potential," "if you sit down to watch this film to tear it apart...you’ll have the opportunity to do so," and "don’t expect a superb film with a hardcore script." And that wasn't even counting the straight-up hate oozed by filmi (that's a Hindi? or combination English and Hindi word that means "of film") fans about various aspects of the film.
Maybe having my expectations lowered to subterranean levels was good for my appreciation of this film, because I ended up really, really liking it and it became the second Bollywood DVD I purchased.
The cast, left to right, features Kajol, Shah Rukh Khan, Jaya Bachchan, Amitabh Bachchan, Kareena Kapoor and Hrithik Roshan. The story is, as Karan Johar (the scriptwriter/director) helpfully tells us, "all about loving your parents." But really, it's all about fathers and sons and the poor womenfolk who get caught in the middle of the manly conflicts. (Another broadly voiced criticism of this film is its portrayal of women, which from what those in the know say is very, very traditional and more than a little demeaning. I wouldn't know but full disclosure means I'll tell you.)
The movie opens with Hrithik Roshan (Rohan) playing in a cricket match that would probably be a lot more exciting if I understood a single thing going on in this incomprehensible game. A disembodied Shah Rukh (Rahul) intones some sort of advice about closing your eyes and thinking of your parents which seems counterintuitive, to say the least, when one is playing a game that requires contact between bat and ball, but whatever. Like I said, I don't understand cricket so maybe closing your eyes is the key to success.
Oh, I almost forgot! Lesson Number Five (I think) about filmi stuff: people refer to the actors involved by their first names as if they're on an intimate standing with them, and often don't bother learning the names of the characters they portray, or at least don't bother using them in discourse about the film. So don't think I'm acting like I know these people when I consistently call them by their given names.
So, Hrithik is, in his own words, "the man of the match" thanks to Shah Rukh's advice. There's a brief wistful glance at a framed photo of some overweight kid and Shah Rukh before it's zipped into Hrithik's duffle bag. He goes to visit his daadii (pronounced daw-dee) and naanii (naw-nee)--his paternal and maternal grandmothers who apparently have a big old haveli all to themselves. Oooh, look, they're so pious they're having Diwali (a Hindu festival that's as big as Christmas is over here) with about fifty other people! Ooh, but look, Daadii keeps on looking at the same photo Hrithik was mooning over previously. And she's crying. I'd cry too if the only access I had to Shah Rukh was a photo... hmmm. Wait...
Anyway, long story (very long story) short, Hrithik doesn't know why his brother disappeared from his life ten years ago but he's about to find out because Daadii spills the beans, and they are ugly little legumes too.
Shah Rukh came back from getting his MBA in England just in time for Diwali ten years ago--oooh, and look! They're so religious! Even though his family are obviously richer than all the gods of the Hindu pantheon combined they are just like us, or at least they would be if we were Indian! Right? Right? They are having a huge party and singing a very religious song about how everything good and bad in life is a boon from god! And there's the girl who played Tina in KKHH dancing around and acting like a daughter-in-law, lighting candles and waving offering trays around. Apparently everybody thinks she's going to marry Shah Rukh's character. Too bad, because he is about to meet his destiny in the form of Kajol.
Kajol plays a girl named Anjali from Chandni Chowk, which the script makes clear is pretty down-market. My husband's take on her is that she's a live-action anime character, and that's pretty accurate. Her every action is so over-the-top that it's impossible to believe this is the same woman who displayed so much subtlety in the second half of KKHH. Anyway, she lives with her father and younger sister, across the street or square or something from Hrithik and Shah Rukh's governess/nurse/keeper/whatever. When Kajol and Shah Rukh meet, sparks fly and soon there's a really sexy song called "Suraj Hua Maddham" which involves the two running around pyramids and dry-humping against desert rocks while Kajol looks orgasmic and Shah Rukh looks...very intense, while nuzzling her all over but! Not kissing! Because this is Bollywood. Also some wet sari action later. It's quite embarrassing to watch in mixed company.
His dad, played by Amitabh Bachchan, is a stiff-necked old-fashioned jerk who's incensed when he finds out his son wants to marry this low-class goofball instead of his own choice, and there ends up being a major family rift that results in Shah Rukh's relationship with his family being completely disrupted, Amitabh and Jaya's marriage turning cold, and Shah Rukh and Kajol's relationship constantly overshadowed by the awareness that she just wasn't good enough for his dad to acknowledge.
After finding all this out, Hrithik makes a solemn vow (in front of the gods! with sacred-sounding "ohms" in the background!) to reunite his broken family and heads to London to find Shah Rukh. While there, he hooks up with Kajol's little sister, now all grown up into an NRI skank (the sort that I've only seen exist in the filmi world) and played by Kareena Kapoor, whom I loved in Jab We Met but not so much here. She kind of plays a "Clueless" character with way more Hinglish (that means Hindi mixed with English) . Their machinations to pull their families back together take on an additional urgency as the two younger siblings fall for each other.
Now, from the above paragraphs you might be under the impression that I hated this movie, when in fact nothing could be farther from the truth. Yes, it has many Superfantastic Bolly Moments, like the sound effect that plays every time young Rohan does something dumb or clumsy, or the vocal flourish that accompanies every occasion that Hrithik takes Kareena down a peg or two. There's the same fake piety that dogged KKHH used as cinematic shorthand to demonstrate the worthiness of the characters, which makes sense since Karan Johar was behind both films. Plus there's the all-sleeveless, all the time, wardrobe Rocky what'shisname put together for Hrithik, which is heavy on the pleather. But the emotional core of the movie is sound, and there's a conviction to the writer's machinations to reunite the family that conveys real passion for familial bonds.
And yeah, there's a lot of crying, but I defy anybody with a heart to watch the scene where the two brothers reunite without at least a few tears in his or her eyes. The actors all rise to the occasion, and I'm including Kareena in that assessment, all glistening-gorgeousness, her face still soft with leftover adolescence. Many have said that her performance ruined the movie for them, but to me that's as dumb as letting Johnny Lever ruin KKHH. The movie is bigger than the actors and bigger than my prejudices against any one of them. Plus, she has really great chemistry with Hrithik.
Perhaps the strongest recommendation this movie holds for me is one that won't hold much weight with anybody else. It's the one Bollywood movie my decidedly non-Bolly-fan husband will consistently ask to rewatch. The process of the father's reunification with his sons is one that gets him every time, and judging by the fact that this was the highest-grossing Hindi movie of all time, I'm guessing it'll get you too. K3G is worth every penny, in my opinion.
This is a song called "Yeh Ladka Hai Allah," which the subtitles translate to "Oh, Lord, This Boy." It demonstrates the chemistry between Shah Rukh and Kajol without any spoilers this time.